The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 
Issue Twenty-Three

Four Short Prose Pieces by Ian Seed
More from Pieces for Small Orchestra by Norman Lock
Dinosaur Evolution by Sharon Wahl
The Rabbi's Magic Wagon by Harry White
Finding Kafka in Prague (first version) by The Cafe Irreal


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Dinosaur Evolution
by Sharon Wahl


wilight in a forest where the primordial silence is interrupted by the scrape and push, crunch and clod-toss of a shovel. Here lie Richard, Brian, Doug, Henry, George. . . Here I am burying Arthur, in his favorite socks. Here lie the bones of all but Meredith, who drowned and by the time I gathered him was picked clean enough for closer keeping; his ebony bones glisten dully in my vanity's bottom drawer. Long thin leg shakes, butterfly-winged vertebrae. But it's the claws that get your attention: an agile predator, Meredith, and as a mate, both rudder and counterbalance.

Of Richard, my first and longest love, I had the least to keep: only a large well-worn tooth, smooth from mashing plants. The world was covered then in sea and swamp and dotted by islands. For years we napped on warm but well-protected rocks. Richard was slow in the mornings, but what dreamer is not? His extinction posed for me a primeval ideological conundrum: if he was perfect and he was, he had no competition, none at all yet how could I adapt to other creatures?

Eons passed. Drier land emerged; also Brian, Doug, and Henry. Conifers spread feathery needles over gigantic ferns. Our breath smelled of sweet sap and mouldering fronds.

There was a time of trombone-solo mating calls on five-foot hollow crests. It was George who embodied most perfectly this reptilian type, notoriously uncooperative, yet voluptuous with life. He attained the greatest bulk of all my loves, and as might be expected, also sported some of the most conspicuous parts. Ah, the tree of my George, long since felled!

Plants now included magnolias and ubiquitous lowland volcanoes. Continental drift was still a crazy fantasy. We were up to our armpits in dead snails.

Those lumbering swampland fellows had given way to frisky, energetic dry-land guys. Was it my taste, or did the times determine each type's appeal? I never was certain. Much debate has revolved around interpretations of anatomy. Were flamboyant head frills a sign of degeneration and doom, as some believed, or merely a natural result of the development of powerful chewing muscles?

Allen, David and Greg were all more bird-like than reptilian. From their delicate arched feet to their flared nostrils, they underwent few refinements through the centuries we flocked together. Each spring I laid great clutches of rubbery eggs. What an advantage ovipositation was. The pleasure we shared assembling a nest; the egg's smooth plop; the excitement of a tiny foot, and then a head, emerging! An egg is such a neat little package, cleanly delivered and difficult to improve upon. What a pity we cannot choose, from all the shapes evolution tries out on us, the traits most worth keeping. Progress is merely a compromise, an average.

Edward and Othniel were of an entirely different nature: proprietary, possessive, absurdly and expensively ambitious. When they discovered that they were both digging in the same backyard, so to speak, they locked into mortal combat. They first assumed a four-legged stance, but then, as theories were revised to account for newer fossil finds, they reassembled in a two-legged posture which left their arms free to grab and scratch and claw with even greater ferocity. They began to call each other names "Elasmosaurus!" "Apatosaurus!" "Your head is on your ass!" "Your skull belongs to another species!" It was a lengthy process which left the two of them financially ruined, as well as vilified in the press. And I lost both of them at once.

But the bone wars are now long over. Time shuffles by; plates shift, mountains jumble, disillusion creeps. Like my memories, DNA gets ever more selfishly rearranged.

Now it is the Age of Enumeration, the age to count and classify. I have often wondered, of all of them, which did I like best? But such comparisons, though tempting, are thoroughly unscientific. I debate their merits not to choose among them, but to remember them all. For what would the testing of my affectionate hypotheses tell me? Only how very lucky I have been.




Sharon Wahl is writing a book of love stories inspired by classic philosophy texts. Stories from this book have been published in The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, Harvard Review, Literal Latte, and others; one of the stories, "I Also Dated Zarathustra," can be found online. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her story, "The Pea," appeared in Issue #7 of The Cafe Irreal.


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